Firstly, dear reader, I would like to apologize for the belatedness of this post by five days. The reasons behind this delay are varied and profound. I hope to write in more detail about said reasons in the blog entry that I will be posting by Thursday night (July 3rd). As for today, I will be writing to you about where I have gone and how far I have come while engaging in community service during the past four weeks I have been offering advocacy and assistance to drop-in clients I’ve seen and met with at the General Assistance Advocacy Project in the Tenderloin.
The primary question I aim to address in this post is as follows: “In the four weeks that I’ve been at GAAP, what have I learned, how have I been of service to others, and what impact have I made?”
Oh, dear reader…the answer to this three-part question seems endless in my mind. My internship at the General Assistance Advocacy Project has been one of the most perspective-shifting, stress-inducing, and grief-evoking processes of all time. I truly cannot explain with words the amount of weight I feel in the turquoise blue room of the General Assistance Advocacy Project every time I sit down with a client who has dropped in for advice, referrals, information, or advocacy. This work is tedious. This work takes a toll that is so incredibly heavy in mind and spirit that I do not think I will truly know the greater meaning in all of this until I look back at it several months to a year from now and realize the impact I made. This summer’s advocacy service work is one of those kinds of experiences…
I am constantly working hour to hour every day that I am in the office at GAAP. Offering Direct Services to low-income folks who may or may not be homeless in San Francisco is stressful. When they talk to me, I can energetically feel their burdens to the point where I feel angered and bewildered for them. Truthfully, the amount of anguish I feel on their behalf is astonishing. The toll that is taken upon the poor and/or homeless is treacherous, hideous, and mind-boggling. It is no wonder that the circumstances imposed upon the poor can trigger mental illness and a deterioration of psyche. The taxation that is experienced in their lives is devastating. The anxiety, depression, helplessness, anguish, anger, fear, astonishment, disbelief, frustration, and tumult that my clients experience day in and day out is heartbreaking to see, to hear, to write, and reiterate as I offer my services in order to help them better navigate the bureaucracy of the San Francisco County Public Benefits system. As a highly sensitive person, it is difficult for me to process all of this.
This difficulty extends from there to the point where I feel like legislation and county policy are so complicated and so filled with requirements, expectations, and deadlines, that it is exhausting to try and feel like I’ve made a difference in someone’s life in only a day. To be honest, I wish I could feel like I’m doing more for people. I wish I could feel as though I’m making swift and steady progress for each individual I see; however many times I see them. However, with the plutocratic system of control that wraps around every Cash-Aid benefits program in place (no matter what county), it feels as though I can only assuage my clients’ pain with a meager (figurative) Band Aid that will only wear off over time. I don’t cure the source of their pain. I don’t heal the main problem. I feel as though my work at GAAP is not immediately attacking the roots of an unjust system that I despise so deeply. So, to answer the question of “what have I learned thus far while at GAAP?” – I can honestly say that change takes time. Policy change, in particular, moves at a snail’s pace or slower. Why? Because those in power do not want to lose their privilege. They do not want to see their advantages over others slip and become devalued. They do not want to see equality among themselves and the masses, simply for the fact that it will bring them down from the pedestal they’ve raised themselves so high upon—and only for the purposes of overlooking, evaluating, and judging those who suffer beneath them. Of course, suffering is scary. There’s no denying that. What is astonishing is the level of denial that takes place in the minds of the fiscally privileged today. The level of denial that is maintained in their minds serves as metaphorical ‘blinders’ that keep them from seeing the collective harm that is done as a result of monetary greed and inequality.
The second question I aim to respond to is: “What do you want to learn in the coming weeks?” In the context of what I desire to learn at GAAP, specifically, in the coming weeks, I hope to become more knowledgeable around issues that pertain to public transportation and transit injustice as it exists in the city and county of San Francisco. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I will be putting together and helping to host a workshop aimed to help low-income folks appeal Muni Fare Evasion citations. I want to become more well-versed in public transportation policy so that the workshop I prepare and organize will be as productive and beneficial as possible for those who attend.
Because many of GAAP’s clients cannot afford public transportation, it is essential that this workshop be centered on ways that our clients (as well as other low income folk) can strategically object to, and fight back against, fare evasion citations. The workshop will give them instructions on how to effectively write appeal letters to the county, as well as providing a space within which low-income individuals can voice their concerns around MUNI and San Francisco public transportation.
Additionally, we would like to pursue policy change within the actual SFMTA. In the short term, we are hoping to leverage enough community members and government actors to pressure the SFMTA into expanding the MUNI Lifeline Program (which offers slightly reduced riding fees for low-income individuals who qualify for the program). Long term, we would like to see changes in the regulations, the enforcement, and the adjudication of SFMTA citations.
Apart from this workshop, I hope to learn how to become more confident and positive in my outlook with regard to how I am helping clients day-to-day who come into GAAP for Direct Services regarding the aid that they are receiving (or wish to receive) from the San Francisco public benefits programs, CalFresh (food stamps), Medi-Cal, shelter and affordable housing, SSI/SSDI, unemployment, or job-search related matters. It has been an incredibly difficult process learning how to deal with all of the feelings that I have gathered around the extreme inequality experienced at the hands of the poor and homeless. It is a lot to carry on mental, emotional, and physical levels—and something that I expect to be processing out for a long time to come.
The third and final question I aim to address within this post is: “What steps can you take to pursue these learning goals?” Well—I believe that putting together an agenda that details how I will go about making sure my organizing is timely and well thought-out for the public transportation and transit justice workshop is important. Acquiring appropriate reading materials on the SFMTA policies is an important piece to reaching my goals as well. Consistently checking in with my supervisor and executive director is also crucial to making sure I am navigating everything efficiently.
With regard to how I can become more confident and positive in my outlook in terms of how much I am helping to serve people who I interact with—I believe making sure I take good care of myself is important. Learning how to come home and engage in practices of self-love, laughter, and methods of self-comfort is absolutely critical to my maintaining a positive headspace. I have been so blessed to be around my five other wonderful Micah Fellows who support and encourage me in my work and life pursuits every day. Without them, I would not be as ‘together’ as I am right now while writing this post. They make sure the best parts of me shine through at the end of the day whenever we get around to checking in with one another.
Their smiles and hugs bring out the love that is always inside of me as a person who is devoted to social justice and activism. They ensure that I never lose sight of my dreams and the innate nature of my soul as a person who cares on profoundly deep levels about improving the life-quality of all those who are oppressed and marginalized in contemporary society. My voice and spirit gains strength through their love and encouragement, and I know I am never lost when I come home to the beautiful souls of Lauren, Kaitlin, Ari, Rachel, and Emily.